Saturday was to be our last ‘team training’ ride before the LEJOG. In the end there were four riders – Bryan, John, Sam and myself. John cycled to mine and we headed the 5 or so miles to the “Club House” to meet the others. The four of us set off to do an ‘easy pace’ 60 miles or so, but we were soon moving at a blistering pace on route to Stirling, a slight tail wind helping us reach a comfortable 20mph+ average. The miles slipped by, with us occasionally riding 2×2 to chat as we easily moved along what felt like gentle downhill roads, with barely any inclines in our way. We passed through Denny and Bannockburn, and soon arrived at Stirling. A small boy called out “look, its the Tour de France” as we whisked by – the first (and probably last) time I’ll be mistaken for a pro’ cyclist.
As we turned back from Stirling along the A811, the effort required jumped up as we were now facing into the same wind that had helped us along so far. Bending low on the bars for my stints behind the man at the front to save energy, tucking even lower when my turn at the front came along, we worked our way along the road, breaking the momentum in our changes only briefly to snap a quick ‘overtaking’ photo for John.
This turned out to be costly, as unaware of our antics, Sam powered on while the rest of us messed about, and a ‘chase’ to get back on his wheel ensued, lead by myself as the next man in the train. Just as we caught him up, his 0.5 mile stint completed, and I took over at the front, still out of breath from the pursuit. Not to worry, once my turn at the front was over, I’d have time to recover on the back of the train. Not quite, as just as I peeled off the front, we were starting the climb up the Kippen hill, so drafting was going to be of little help. Bah.
a fun 4.5 minutes going up the Kippen hill
We climbed pretty much as a group, pausing briefly at the village to regroup for the final stretch of the ascent. At the top, a quick stop turned into a slightly longer break as Bryan fixed a creaking saddle and Sam’s electronic gears needed some attention.
The ride down was taken steadily, with only a brief mile or two before the Crow Road and our second and final climb of the day. The Crow Road was at the end of my first ever outing on the bike, back in a chilly, wet November last year when I was completely new to modern cycling and could barely work the gears and worries of falling off while ‘clipped in’ were a distinct possibility. So it was apt that the last climb in my final training ride before our LEJOG would also be on that same hill. Back then, cycling up-hill at any sort of speed was a distant dream – I’d chug uphill at barely over walking pace, often thinking I’d be quicker hopping off the bike and running, as my more cycle-experienced team-mates fast vanished into the distance, seeming to glide uphill with barely any effort. Not so today. We all moved up together, Sam and John taking the lead, our speed barely dropping below 10mph except on the steepest sections. Bryan fell off a little, so as we made the top we were one man short, but the descent would be followed by a stop to regroup. My bottle bounced out of its cage at the car park, a fellow cyclist going uphill recovering it for me, as I braked hard and was working out how on earth to turn back up hill to recover it when sat in my top gear (walking was my plan). Bottle back on board I continued down to the turn-off, Bryan soon with us and the four of us got back ‘in the train’ for the last few miles home.
A slight detour at Torrance from the ‘normal’ route added an extra 4 miles. After a stint at the front, knocking back some water, I found myself off the back of the group, and struggling to regain their back wheels. My recent “these hills are easy” self confidence was vanishing as quickly as the group were into the distance. A red light ahead spurred me to catch them, but they all stopped for a quick ‘which way is it’ just before the lights, allowing me catch up, chow down a banana and let them know “I’m suddenly done in”. Not good. We got going again, my energy slowly returning, but I still struggled on some of the slight uphill sections, pushing hard to stay in-group. The downhill to the second to last junction caused a bit of a stir, Sam in the lead coming to a near stop before shooting out, leaving the rest of us unclipped waiting for the traffic. As we’d just been coming downhill, I was in a high gear, so stood up and pushed hard up the first section of the last short hill before home, zipping ahead of Bryan and John, who not liking this ‘attack’ returned the favour as I hit ‘lactic acid’ threshold, sitting down as they zoomed by me before they too slowed up near the top. I rolled after them, catching up on the roundabout as we turned in to stop at the “Club House”, comparing averages as we hopped off our bikes and loaded them onto the cars. 18.5 mph. That was an ‘easy’ training ride? There’ll be none of that crazy speeding on the LEJOG.
The main Sunday ride was a Duke’s Pass run, planned for a 7.45am start from the Kirkie. Now the clocks were changing, so would effectively mean I’d need to be up at ‘old’ 5am (6am with the hour change) to get there in time. As I didn’t relish that idea, decided to dodge it, as Mark M had invited me out with his friend Mark D (so many Marks to keep track of) for a Saturday jaunt to Helensburgh. This seemed like a more sleep friendly outing – starting around 9am. Much more sensible. Headed round to Mark M’s for around 8.30, then met up with Mark D on Great Western Road, and we made our way to Anniesland and then on to Dumbarton. The two M’s were doing most of the work, with me tucked in behind and getting some practice at wheel hugging. The fairly flat route saw us making good time, and we were soon in Helensburgh, sitting on an average speed of mid 18mph. We made a brief stop while Mark M said a quick hello to friend refurbing a restaurant, had a quick on-bike snack, then were on our way to the first (and only) climb of the day at Glen Fruin.
We turned off the main road, dropped onto the small ring, and headed up the hill, a quick burst of speed over the first cattle grid and we settled in to the ascent. My climbing practice on the Hairy Brae from last week’s Largs trip was put to good use, switching between on-saddle and on pedals standy-up techniques to keep the pace going as best I could, giving an average speed of around 7.5mph for the mile up the hill. The two M’s were pleased with my attempt at the climb, Mark M in particular commenting on my improvement since we were last out together, so I guess all this training is paying off. The descent down to Arden saw us hitting around 35mph, before joining a nice busy A82 for a couple of miles before escaping the traffic onto the Luss road and making our way through Balloch and Alexandria, setting a solid pace as we went. Soon we were back on to the now dual-carriageway A82 for the return to Glasgow, Mark D leading the way, with only the occasional short split forming at round-a-bouts or traffic lights. The majority of the time though we formed a compact group and the last few miles into the city were soon behind us. As we returned through Anniesland, Mark D took a training tip from the great Robert Millar, and chased a bus halfway up the road in the outside lane (Mr Millar used to cycle after buses from Glasgow to Kilmarnock and Ayr). Not my idea of a good training strategy, but was amusing to watch.
My average speed was now sitting at 17.4mph, a record for me over the 55 or so miles we’d completed. Mark M headed off along Queen Margaret Drive, Mark D and myself continuing along Gt. Western road, before splitting at Gibson Street to head to our respective homes. Having to stop for the numerous traffic lights between this point and my flat knocked a few tenths off my average, but still a very respectable 17.1 mph average for 59.5 miles and my best average to date for a 50 mile+ route.
For the Garmin fans: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/161545729
Sunday’s training run – the Duke’s, Kippen and Crow Road hills – a tough 60 miler, and now a favourite route of the team was on the table. Gio, John and myself were the riders, with the rest out for various reasons. We set off, the roads drying out and the clouds clearing away, looking to give us a decent day for the ride. Section one (stealing Big J’s breakdown of the route), a nice section of rolling road to Aberfoyle, allowed me to get some good practice at group riding, taking turns at the front and resulting in a nice average speed of 18.7mph. I found myself falling off the back a bit if I took a swig of juice after my turn at the front, must work on the process of pedalling and drinking, but easily regained the group at this early stage of the ride.
We soon had our first hill ahead of us, at the ~16 miles mark, the Duke’s pass (section 2). A brief stop to refuel, and I set off ahead of the others, knowing they’d soon overhaul me. Determined to take this hill without falling below 6mph (speedy!), started steadily, trying to avoid dropping into my lowest gear, standing on the pedals at the steeper parts of the climb. The hardest parts of the hill still are still challenging, but at this point, have lost their full thigh-burner status as my ability to cycle and understanding of the gears have improved. Result – 7.95mph. Not brilliant, but pleased that I easily topped my 6mph target.
Section 3, rolling roads again and more group riding. Odd incident on the road (all the fun happens when I’m in the group it seems), as at one point we’re hot on the tail of an elderly driver in an A6 and we’re having to brake to avoid running in to them! Much confusion and merriment from us, but eventually the driver works out the pedal on the right makes you go quicker and we’re left behind, no longer sucking in their fumes. This section saw us averaging around 18.8mph. Consistent stuff. We were soon hitting the 40 mile mark, the second hill of the morning at Kippen, and as usual, the others leave me on the first rise of the climb. I settled in to my own rhythm, enjoying the scenery and having mixed feelings towards the sunshine (nice for view, not so much for sweatyness). Its not long before two ‘pro’ cyclists zip by me, not muttering a word in response to my greeting as they tear up the hill, I guess saving their breath for whatever private competition they are in. Not much further on, another cyclist, sharing the previous pair’s team colours breezes by me, this time with a hearty hello. As I crest the final rise he’s not far off, so I clunk up the gears in a (futile) attempt to catch him – another short hill puts paid to my chase but shortly after I do catch them, as they’ve all stopped to regroup with another handful of their buddies. Average up the hill – 8.3mph. Not so bad. I press on, as John and Gio are not to be seen (no stopping at the top this time) and enjoy the downhill section solo. Well, up to the point some (hmm, family audience), so lets say “bad driver” in a Range Rover thinks driving up my backside and beeping me when there’s bags of room on the other side of the road to overtake (no other traffic for miles) is the correct etiquette. Must look that up in the Highway Code as I must have skipped that part.
We regroup around Fintry, John and Gio wanting to hammer on to the Crow (aka section 5). I’m happy to let them go, and chow down on a Torq bar (ginger and pineapple flavour – who came up with that one?) and a gel before heading along solo to the 3 mile climb before me. I settle in to a I’m-pretty-knackered-don’t-care-how-fast-this-is pace (turns out to be 7.6mph average) as I’m hitting the limit of my current fitness and ability. As I climb slowly, a handul of riders come down the hill (oh how I detest their ability to freewheel at this point in the day) with a cheery nod, wave or ‘hello’ to which I attempt a similar greeting, its success dependent on how steep the hill is at that point. As I reach the ‘house’ on the hill, the weather decides that it would make my cycle oh so much more fun if it were to hail. How nice, tiny ice particles pinging off my face just to cheer me along. The hail stops as I crest the hill, and I clunk the gears into a more suitable ratio for the downhill section. More hail. The faster I go, the more it hurts, so I ease off the pedals until it subsides moments later. Top speed on the downhill, 33mph. Could have been quicker, but I’m shattered and don’t have the energy or confidence to risk much faster.
We regroup at the bottom (section 6), John and Gio keen to be off and maintain their 17+mph average. I agree to hang on to the back for as long as I can, but am doubtful that I’ll keep up for any length of time. My doubts are soon confirmed as we’ve barely gone a few hundred yards before I lose touch on a round-a-bout and the legs are just not interested in pushing the pedals to get back to the duo ahead, hunting down some fellow cyclist they’ve spotted. The wind picks up, as I check my watch which is showing around 3 hours 45, with 4 miles to go. I forge on, trying to work out what pace I need to maintain to get this done in sub-4 hours, but am foiled by the wind and my complete lack of energy. The last 3 miles offer little respite from the wind, my average drops to just over 11mph but I get back in one piece – a slight niggle in my left knee, but otherwise unscathed. 60 miles done, overall average of 14.9mph. 15mph and sub-4 hours next time…
Sunday. 9-sh. This week I was in town, so headed out with the team for a training run on the wheels. Cycled round to John’s (6.5 miles or so) without incident, barring John’s friend Joey’s cousin, Frank, who followed me for half a mile before jumping a red light to go by me – not that I was racing, as I was happilly pootling along minding my own, saving my energy for whatever was to come. My Garmin 205, strapped to the handlebars with cunning use of an old light mount and a rubber strap from a mudguard I never used, had my average on this pre-training section at 16mph, not too shabby. Three of us hit the road, John, Gio and myself, our exact route a mystery to me (as always) but starting with a steady run out of Renfrew and into the countryside proper. Bananas and sport gels stuffed in my pockets, along with a trusty Mars bar and a new, second bottle cage taking my on-board liquid count to 1.5L or so, I was prepared this week for refueling on route. The pace was fine for me, taking one stint at the front, but spending most of my time behind the more experienced riders. This has one drawback – wet roads. If you’re thirsty and not fussy about what you drink, you’re well catered for, just open wide and you’ll get a steady stream of gunk from the wheel in front. If not, you’ll be steadily bespeckled with road mank. Still, its all part of the fun of winter training.
On we went, hitting our first hill of the day, me into the lowest gear I have and taking it easy, J&G zipping ahead as if the change in gradient wasn’t there. No real issues, taking on a bit of lucozade as I climbed on, knowing they’d be at the summit, wherever that was going to be. In the end, it wasn’t too bad, so on we went through Kilmacolm and skirting round to Greenock for a cracking downhill section, hitting a record-for-me 37mph (though the uploaded data lists it as 36mph, meh) . My euphoria didn’t last long as a quick break for refuelling had J revealing the ‘next bit has a bit of nasty climb, its not a long one though…’. Hmm. First bit of the hill was ok, leading to a thigh-burner, which was thankfully short enough to manage without running through all of the fine selection of expletives I’ve learnt from my many years in Glasgow. Past Loch Thom and I’m starting to enjoy this cycling lark, great views and the terrain, though undulating, a bit more forgiving and no more thigh-burners. The team slipped ahead, waiting for me at the top of the last rise, chatting to a local + dog, leading to another great downward section to Largs. Now, I’ve been to Largs a few times, in the car. The main road is a ‘select low gear’ type as you come down in to the town. We’d be taking that ‘slight incline’ out of the place. It was around midday, I’m sitting on 41 miles for the day and have arranged to be back in Glasgow for a 1.30-ish lunch. Not going to make 20-30 odd miles with that nasty hill to start in 90minutes, unless I can magically average 20+mph… So again, plan B kicks in, as Largs has a railway station. Annoyingly, I’m still feeling fresh-ish (unlike a fortnight ago where I was far from it) but time is against me, so a £7.20 ticket tucked in my jacket and I’m sat in the station waiting for the 12:56 to Glasgow. J&G head off with my best wishes to take that hill and I kick back and wait for my train.
fastest this bike went all day, courtesy of ScotRail
Train is bang on time, but turns out this isn’t an express – it stops at pretty much every stop along the line, turning what I thought would be a 30min ride into over an hour. Was impressed by the handy velcro straps for holding the bike in place, though I doubt the other passengers were impressed with my dirt covered self (I found mud still stuck to my ears after I showered – ugh) . Texting on route turns lunch to coffee, arriving at Central at just after 2pm, hobble out of the place (clippy shoes are no use for walking) and zip home on the bike to meet my lunch-now-coffee friend. Maybe next week I’ll finally complete a full training cycle…